Once Nov. 7 rolls around, it will have been nearly eight full months since any of the Colorado Buffaloes have competed in any athletic arena.
It was on March 11 in Las Vegas that the CU men’s basketball team tipped off against Washington State in the first round of the Pac-12 Conference tournament. The Buffs lost that night, continuing a maddening late-season slide, yet they remained in line for a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Additionally, the CU women’s team still was working out, hoping to play on in the WNIT.
Never mind the spring sports, including CU’s nationally-ranked women’s lacrosse team, were getting ready to take command of the sports calendar. As everyone knows, none of it happened, as the COVID-19 pandemic has kept all Pac-12 sports on the sideline even while most of the other power leagues embarked on some form of a fall schedule.
On Saturday, the Pac-12’s return to football finally became official, as the league announced a football schedule that has the Buffs returning to action at home on Nov. 7 against UCLA. It might not be a memorable 2020 on the gridiron. The Buffs will have a new coach, a new quarterback, zero spring practices, and a rollercoaster workout routine this fall as the program’s backdrop when CU finally lines up against the Bruins. Nevertheless, this might be most anticipated CU football season opener since the days of chasing national championships 30 years ago.
The Pac-12 chose to attempt wresting some of the College Game Day spotlight with its Saturday morning announcement. It’s debatable whether the league would have been better off dominating its own news cycle on Thursday or Friday — the live interview with Oregon coach Mario Cristobal would have been just as relevant and timely even if Saturday had been a day or two after the scheduling announcement — but give the beleaguered Pac-12 credit for the TV schedule. The Pac-12 might have turned into an afterthought for college football fans as the rest of the Power Five conferences either forged ahead with a fall schedule or, in the case of the Big Ten, formed a quicker return to action. But the league will at least have a fighting chance to change that reality out of the gate.
Through the first six weeks of the Pac-12 season (the seventh week will feature the title game, along with crossover games for the other 10 teams) every game will air on either ESPN or FOX. That includes the Saturday morning opener on Nov. 7 between Arizona State and USC that will kick off at 9 a.m. PT on FOX, taking over the noon ET window head-to-head against the rest of that day’s Power Five showdowns. Count me skeptical about 9 a.m. PT kickoffs becoming the norm, particularly once fully packed stadiums become part of the equation again. Yet with no fans in the stands and many teams (like the Buffs) working out daily in the morning anyway, any chance at grabbing a slice of the national spotlight is not to be missed.
Hopefully the seven-game schedule unfolds more seamlessly than the 2020 slate has in other pockets of the country. Indeed, the local coronavirus numbers in Boulder have been encouraging in recent days, though it remains to be seen if that will continue if Boulder County Health rescinds its stay-at-home decree for 18 to 22 year olds on Thursday at noon, the original expiration date of the order.
Regardless, Folsom will be devoid of fans in November and December. And it might be ugly football when the practice-starved, team-in-transition Buffs kick things off against another struggling program in the Bruins. But who cares? Eight months is a long time on the sideline even in the best of times, and the past eight months have been anything but the best of times.
Ugly football or not, bring it on. No doubt it will be a sight for sore eyes.